Dayton blasts weather forecastersby Mark Zdechlik, Minnesota Public Radio
Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., is calling for an investigation into what he describes as a "failure" by the National Weather Service to warn residents of Rogers of a tornado Saturday night. The tornado killed a 10-year-old girl and damaged more than 500 homes. Weather service officials have said they did not have time to trigger warning sirens before the twister struck. Dayton says he is not convinced of that, and if the investigation finds mistakes, any employees who acted improperly should lose their jobs.
Washington — Sen. Dayton says he's "outraged" storm warning sirens did not sound Saturday night as the tornado hit Rogers. Dayton says he is not happy with the explanations Minnesota-based National Weather Service officials have given for the lack of warning.
"The actions taken and not taken by the National Weather Service officials on duty that night should be investigated immediately. If anyone is determined to be culpable for the terrible failure to forewarn Rogers area residents, they should be terminated," Dayton said. "If failed procedures were culpable they must be revised immediately so that another innocent 10-year-old girl never dies."
Local National Weather Service employees are not commenting on Dayton's call for an investigation into the events of Saturday night. But on Monday Rich Naistat, the NWS' Science and Operations Officer at the Chanhassen office told Minnesota Public Radio News there was no way for forecasters to put out a warning. Unlike most tornados, Naistat said, the twister that hit Rogers was on the ground almost immediately, about one minute, after it formed.
"In this particular storm the circulation on radar, which is one of the pieces of the puzzle that we use to diagnose the need for a tornado warning, occurred simultaneously with the touch down. So one might say it was bad luck. This occurs in a minority of tornados but it obviously occurred Saturday night."
Sen. Dayton disagreed with that assessment.
"That's just not true. They, by their own account, saw on the radar screen at 9:54 a indication of a tornado rotation that had formed," Dayton said.
The weather service estimates the tornado touched down at 9:55.
Dayton says even if forecasters had as little as a minute's advanced warning they should have acted to trigger sirens. Dayton also says more than 10 minutes prior to the radar images of the hook echo rotation, the weather service was reporting damaging thunderstorm winds in the area.
In his letter to the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Commerce seeking the investigation, Dayton says what he calls the weather services self-exoneration for any failures raises "very serious questions."
"I am not going to prejudge, but I think someone should be accountable for this and no one is willing to be held accountable and that's part of what gives rise to my anger and my action today. As I review the responses of those who would have responsibility for this, everyone is saying they didd everything right and yet nobody was warned and a girl died and six others were hospitalized. I find that just intolerable."
The Chief of Services for the National Weather Services Central Region, Mike Looney, says he's comfortable with the performance of the local office. Looney says while forecasters are able to give advanced warning in most tornado situations that's just not possible all of the time.
"There's absolutely no negligence. There's absolutely no asleep at the wheel, if I could use that term. It's just unfortunate, tragic circumstances," he said.
Looney notes that the wind damage reports spotters on the ground witnessed at about 9:45 p.m. were not called into the weather service until about 15 minutes after the tornado struck. Looney says the weather service will review exactly what transpired Saturday night.
Hennepin County Commissioner Penny Steele, who lives in Rogers, says judging from the wreckage of the house in which the 10-year-old was killed, more kids would have lost their lives had they sought cover in the basement because the house collapsed into the basement.
Steele says it's always a good idea to try to improve public safety. But she seems satisfied with the weather service's explanation that there was no time to sound alarms.
"It's just hard to even speculate that there would have been any better outcome had what the senator is asking for occurred. I am puzzled by that," she said.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. is not joining Dayton's call for an inquiry.
"I just don't know right now whether the issue here is pointing blame at somebody," Coleman said. "I don't know at this point if anything other than the Almighty is to blame."
The Department of Commerce says it will review Dayton's request for an investigation.
- All Things Considered, 09/19/2006, 5:22 p.m.